Sunday, 3 January 2010

No Shoes, No Shirt, No Dice

I play a bit of Play-by-Post and Play-by-Email, so I'm no stranger to its advantages and disadvantages. The chief of the latter is well known: it's godawfully slow. This makes detailed planning and complex inter-character interactions (the most fun aspects of RPGing, to me) very difficult if not impossible.

I've been thinking recently of using diceless systems as a way around this. Amber DRPG and (if I understand it correctly) Nobilis allow the player to take far more 'narrative control' than dice-lead games. In Amber, player-characters automatically succeed in any given task unless they are opposed by another player-character. In Nobilis, the spending of tokens achieves a similar effect.

This does away with one of the major stumbling blocks to progress in a PBP game, namely, the Everybody Waits for the DM Song and Dance Routine. This will be familiar to anybody who's tried a game with this format - whereas in a tabletop game the DM can give the players instant feedback on the success or failure of proposed actions, on the net the process becomes attenuated by log-in times, typing times and time zones, making creative thinking and problem solving a frustrating process at best. However, with a game like Amber, where success in many situations is guaranteed, this problem fades to insignificance unless two players are in conflict against one another - rather than the usual "Can I climb that wall/open that chest/break that vase" sort of questions that get posted in a trad PBP game, instead you get stuff like "I climb the wall, then at the top I open the chest and then break the vase". Hey presto, things are moving faster than the pace of a snail on barbiturates.

This only works for a specialised type of game, and part of the fun of traditional RPGs is that failure is a big possibility in most situations. But in the glacial world of PBP it may be a better option.

(There's a good thread on diceless games here at Occasionally that site does throw up something useful.)


  1. Heh, I thought this would be a post about gamer hygiene.

  2. My only question would be why anyone still plays PBP or Email games when clients like Skype exist for expediting online play. Honestly I'd rather go solo than wait five months to explore one level of a dungeon.....

  3. The only problem with Skype gaming for me is the time differential.

    I'm working full time plus several part time jobs, got a wife and kid, and I live in East Asia. When it's convenient for most gamers in N. America or Europe to play Skype games (or chat games on Dragonsfoot, or whatever), I'm either working or getting my much needed sleep. :)

    If there were enough gamers in East Asia/Australia/New Zealand that wanted to get a Skype game going sometime convenient for us in the Eastern hemisphere, I'd love it. As it is, most of the games I see advertised are convenient for those in the U.S. and Canada, not for me.

  4. Badmike: Like Lord Gwydion, time differences, work and social/family life tend to preclude it for me. I've been living in Japan for the last 7 years, and while I have been able to do a little play-by-chat when my schedule allows (if I set aside the morning it's possible to play with people in the US in their evening, for instance) it's not often the case.

    Being in the UK is worse, because there's a 5-8 hour difference with the US, which means evening over there in America is the dead of night in Britain. And because a disproportionately high percentage of roleplayers are in North America, it's a problem.

  5. The only way I was able to run PBEM games that I could stand was by converting the game system to Story Engine. I've never had the gumption to try PBP.

  6. PBP for me works ok with games of a more cinematic nature. Coretex Systems games like Battlestar Galactica and Serenity work well. So do the Savage World games (I've run the Solomon Kane game PBP). So do games of an investigative nature (Call of Cuthulhu comes to mind). I'd definitely avoid combat/rules heavy games (alas, not even going to try my beloved Champions PBP).